The U.S. Energy Department says Washington is prepared to tap its emergency oil stockpile to help oil producers and refiners in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

The storm is lashing a part of the U.S. Gulf coast responsible for about one quarter of U.S. crude oil production. It is also home to key oil import facilities and refineries.

The oil would be loaned to refiners and producers to lessen the effect of disrupted energy production.

Worries about damage to energy production infrastructure have pushed crude oil prices up to record levels.

A similar oil loan program aided oil companies after a hurricane disrupted production last year.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.